The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan
Rating : 5/5
Although the name “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir” had popped up multiple times in my reading list, I had pushed it aside as I was on my thriller/mystery spree. After all the Agatha Christie and other true crime started affecting my sanity, I decided to give myself a break and go back to my reading list. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir really popped up with its elegant cover nudging me to read the blurb. One look at the blurb and I was completely won over. A women’s fiction set around WWII: How can I say no! Soon enough, I was so deeply engrossed in this book such that I managed to finish it within a day or two despite my busy schedule.
The story of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir revolves around a six month period in 1940 when Chilbury, a fictional town in England, is facing the early days of WWII. With all the able bodied men at war, the way of life in Chilbury is about to break down. Primrose Trent, a newly arrived professor of music, sets in motion a series of changes by resurrecting the church choir to an all-women choir. From this point onward, absorbing strength and support from each other, the women of the Chilbury choir exhibit great resilience, support and exceptional mental strength. Narrated through a series of letters and journal entries by Mrs. Tilling, a mild mannered widow, Venetia and Kitty Winthrop, the daughters of Brigadier Winthrop, Silvie, a Jewish evacuee and Mrs. Paltry, a conniving midwife, the story explores the indomitable spirit of the women of Chilbury in the face of great challenges.
Reading this exceptional novel, it was hard for me to believe that this was the debut novel of Jennifer Ryan. She shows exceptional language skills, a well thought out plot tied together to even the minutest detail and exceptional characters who are fully fleshed and unique. A major part of the story revolves around the choir and their practice with the music providing them with solace, inspiration and courage. Credit must be given to Ryan’s exceptional writing as the readers can feel the music reverberating in their ears and lifting their spirits, just like the women of Chilbury. Although the story focuses on the village life with the war in the background, the atrocities of the war are touched upon with great effect. We can feel our hearts break when the mothers send their sons to war, the pain of the wounded, the trauma of the survivors and the fear of death in the civilians.
“If something needs to be done, it’s up to us women to make do” – Mrs Tilling
As the story develops, the women of Chilbury learn to stand up for themselves and for what they believe in, be it their principles or love. This change in character is very beautifully and thoughtfully portrayed in Mrs. Tilling, the meek and submissive widow, who decides to live for herself and her beliefs in the face of her mortality. Ryan’s writing tugs at our heartstrings in some chapters, especially when she writes about an air raid which destroys some parts of the village leaving a few people dead. The Chilbury choir again comes to the rescue when there are no able bodied men to be the pall bearers. The members of the choir thus become the pall bearers for their dear ones and carry the bodies singing the farewell song. This emotionally charged scene will remain etched in one’s memory for some time to come.
The story of the Winthrop kids is also well portrayed, partly salacious but equally romantic and emotional. These girls with their strengths and weakness will totally win you over. The bonding between them is so realistic with their sibling rivalry and petty fights yet providing support and love for each other. The Nazi brutalities are also indirectly touched upon through Silvie. Her pain in being separated from her parents and the fear of a Nazi occupation of Chilbury fills one with sorrow and dread. Yet, Ryan has introduced a ray of positivity here through the Winthrop girls, specifically Kitty Winthrop who consoles Silvie and plans with her to travel to her home after the war by pouring over the maps all night.
Overall, this is an exceptional saga of the fighting spirit of the women in Chilbury, who find salvation and inspiration in music to stand up against all odds for what they believed in. This book has everything going in its favour – exceptional language, magnificent story and fantastic characters. Personally, I am a fan of Ryan’s character development as each character is perfect with varying shades of black, white and grey. It is indeed very hard to believe that this is the work of a debutante. This book is a must read for everyone out there who love books with exceptional female leads.
About the Author:
Jennifer Ryan was born in a village in Kent, England, and now lives in Washington D.C., with her husband and children. Before turning her hand to writing, she was a book editor, both in London and Washington D.C.
Thanks to Blogging For Books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy in exchange of an honest review.